The wall slid up and away. There were at least fifty people having drinks before the conference panel when this entire wall slid up and into the ceiling, doubling the size of the room.
“That’s a thing,” Hubert said to me. “Up it goes. They don’t have things like that where I’m from.” Though I’d known him only a few days, I had quickly learned Hubert was from northern Minnesota, born and raised. There were many things he had not seen.
“I’ll contact maintenance,” said Imir Imir, Ph.D., trying the door. But the knob wouldn’t turn. “OK,” he confirmed, “the knob won’t turn. But someone will come soon. Ours is an exciting panel. Others will come to see it, and when they do, we’ll tell them to hold the door so I can contact maintenance.”
It seemed like a good idea. And we trusted Imir Imir because he was the panel chair. Plus, we had an open bar.
Hubert, who’d been considering the uses of soybeans, resumed. “Bread items, dairy, even meat—and then paint remover, table wax, and car fuel too. Think about it,” he said in a tone that blended wonder with concern, “bean shampoo.”
As Hubert spoke, he drifted into the new space revealed by the sliding wall. Many of us followed, including Imir Imir. He was the panel chair, and while that didn’t mean doodly-squat in the scheme of things, he seemed to feel the weight of the conference upon him, as if he were a conduit between us and larger goings-on. “Is everyone enjoying the conference?” he said, clapping an awkward hand to Hubert’s shoulder.
We told him yes, even though none of us had been to another panel. We even said that this conference promised to be the best one yet and we’d been looking forward to it for a while. And Hubert went on about the pâté—how it was remarkable the way humans had figured out what animal parts could and couldn’t be eaten—and wondered who thought of it first, the Indians maybe.
That’s when the wall started to drop, a little faster than it had gone up. A few people who had meandered over to the new room ducked back into the old. But mostly it caught us off guard, so we waited. “Blast,” Imir Imir said, looking around the new part of the room for a door, but there was none. “Blast.”
“Well, isn’t this a thing?” Hubert said.
“You’ll have to contact maintenance,” Imir Imir shouted into the old part of the room, kneeling so that his voice would project under the wall. Some of the rest of us knelt too. From floor level, we saw people already drifting to the door, but they were having no better luck than before. They started pulling with vigor.
The wall fell into place and locked with two metal clicks.
We listened as the people on the other side of the wall tried to open the door. They called to passersby. A few glasses seemed to drop from the bar, there was a breaking sound, and a woman’s voice saying, “I’ll take care of that.” Then we heard a sound like a giant toilet being flushed on a giant airplane, followed by silence. I went to the wall and knocked on it. “Hello?” I said. “Hel-lo-o?”